Cause of Nichols fire still a mystery

As you travel around Kan?sas, you?ll find many local mysteries that have never been solved. These collected stories would make an interesting and large book.

In the city of Manhattan, is there any greater mystery than ?The Case of the Burning Castle?? Put your detective hats on: We?re on the case.

Nichols Gymnasium was a fixture on the campus of Kansas State University. The castle-like structure was built in June 1910 and was named after Ernest Nichols, who was the K-State president from 1899-1910.

Built at a cost of $84,190 (all state funds), the structure became a busy place. Over the years, Nichols housed the student radio station, the military science department, literary society rooms, music studios, the public speaking department and the swimming pools.

It was also the home to Kansas State basketball, and what games it witnessed.

Fondly called the ?Cracker Box Coliseum,? the gym had a maximum seating capacity of 2,800 fans, but that hardly stopped overflow crowds from watching K-State basketball between 1910 and 1950. Seating was at a premium and the students were only allowed to attend alternate games. For residents of Manhattan, seeing a game was even a greater rarity.

Despite these circumstances, it was not uncommon for dozens of fans to sneak into Nichols and watch games while perched upon the rafters, seated high above the action. There are numerous photos that document that fact.

On March 11, 1950, Kansas State played its last game in Nichols, defeating Nebraska, 63-60. Over the years the school posted a record of 228-136 in the venerable building.

In December 1950, the Cats moved into a new field house, which would later be named in honor of former athletic director Mike Ahearn. Nichols remained a useful structure at K-State until an arsonist?s fire gutted the building Dec. 12, 1968. Much archival material about K-State sports, and basketball in particular, were destroyed in the fire.

The origins of the fire remain an enduring mystery, even to this day. Who caused the fire? Was it a student, a resident of Manhatt?an or someone else? Was more than one person involved? Was the increasing agitation about the Vietnam War a factor?

As time slips away, it becomes increasingly unlikely these and other questions will ever be answered. As a big fan of the Hardy Boys, I think their talents would be most useful at a time like this.

After years of neglect, Nichols was restored and today is known as Nichols Hall. If only the walls could talk. They certainly would tell tales of some terrific and exciting basketball games and might even provide the final, necessary clue to solve ?The Case of the Burning Castle.?

Yet another remarkable story from the basketball courts of Kansas Hoopla.

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Ideas, questions and comments: Contact smf2guard@yahoo.com ? 2010 by Steven Michael Farney. All rights reserved.

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